Nongriat’s Living Roots Bridges and The Tribe That Communicates With The Trees

The Story
A bonfire’s lit in the centre, a group of travellers sitting around it warming hands, when someone starts a story – there was once a man who fell in love with a tree. They wanted to get married but the man’s community didn’t approve. The man married a woman and bore kids with her. However, the tree’s love for the man never died and he created a bridge over the river with its roots. It was the tree’s gift to the man it loved.


Nongriat, Meghalaya

We’re in Nongriat, a small village in the East Khasi Hills of Meghalaya. The story is folklore of course, but the love between man and trees is evident here. Nongriyat is a long and steep trek down (about 3,500 stairs) from Tyrna village which is about 12 kms from Cherrapunjee. The path on the way down is mostly cemented and lined with betelnut and bayleaf trees. Our guide for the trek – a local Khasi (the indigenous community of Meghalaya) from Tyrna, Wesley Majao – points out various trees, wild berries, butterflies and spiders to us. It’s like he can sense the forest and that I guess is true for every local in this area.

Also Read: Faith Walk In Calcutta – Knowing the city through its various cultures

Beautiful things that nature throws at you if you pay attention. Spotted this Signature Spider on our trek down to Nongriat village. The Argiope spider builds a zigzag web which looks like letters and hence the name signature spider. We were told that the female stores her eggs in this zigzag design. The writer in me was kicked to see the spider that writes.

Wesley picking Soh Chang (local sour fruit) for us

Bridging the Gap
After a three hour long trek we reach Nongriat, home to Jinkieng Nongriat – the double decker roots bridge, a living example of magic that man could create if he works in sync with nature. There’s a certain level of communication between humans and trees here. The locals give direction to the roots hanging from the Rubber tree, leading the way to the ground on the other side of the river. It’s like parents handholding their kids across the road; after a point the kids grow up and find their way. There’s a language that flows from human hands to these roots, reminding me of the tree-loving Na’vis in the film Avatar.

The longest living roots bridge in Meghalaya between Tyrna village and Nongkriat is about 95 feet long and is 65 years old. We walked a bit off root on our trek down to the famous double decker bridge to walk on this one. An absolute wonder of nature.

 

The idea of making such bridges occurred to the Khasi tribe more than one and a half centuries ago. The roots were guided through hollow canes to the opposite bank of the river. The roots are tended and weaved for years – about 15 to 20 – to form the bridge strong enough to carry human weight. The double decker bridge is 180 years old and the locals are now adding a third layer to it; the most beautiful part of this act being the idea to create something for the future generation.

Also Read: Baking Bread and Learning Life’s Lessons at Sangye’s Kitchen, McLeodganj

Intricate weaving of the living roots bridge

Smaller living roots bridge

The Tribe
Khasis follow a matrilineal society where the boy moves to the girl’s house/village after marriage and children take mother’s surname. The property too flows through the women. However, this doesn’t mean that the men are the under-privileged part of the society. They are equally important when it comes to taking care of the family and decision making and hence matrilineal and not matriarchal.

The Steel Age
No matter how romantic the idea of bridges made out of the roots of tree sounds, the process of building them is slow. And so there are steel bridges for quicker access which leave the original forest trail abandoned, much to the curiosity of the adventurous travellers.

Metal bridge

Also Read: Where To Eat in McLeodganj
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